01 Aug Hands On Review: Hamilton Khaki Pilot Pioneer Mechanical
I think it’s safe to say that most watch collectors have owned a “field watch” at some point. They’re one of the key styles that continue to endure long after their creation. Of course, a big part of this is that anything with a military association has an added cool factor. We just can’t seem to get enough of that no nonsense practical look. Of course, watch brands are only too happy to stoke the fire, and there’s an incredible number of military inspired watches on the market. With its rich history, Hamilton is one brand that’s perfectly positioned to take advantage of this demand. After the runaway success that was the Khaki Field Mechanical, it was only a matter of time before Hamilton once again dug into their archives for another military gem. The Pilot Pioneer is a reissue of Hamilton’s W10, which they made for the Royal Air Force from 1973-1976.
At 36mm, the cushion shaped case has the same dimensions as the original W10. It’s nice to see Hamilton exercising some restraint. Usually brands can’t resist increasing the size when they reissue a watch. Whilst 36mm seems small, thanks to the squat case, I think the watch wears more like a 38mm piece. At 10mm thick the watch sits nice and close to the wrist too, though you’d hope it would given that it’s got a hand wound movement. In keeping with the functional nature of the watch, the finish is all brushed. The brushing is incredibly fine and very well executed. It’s good to see that Hamilton didn’t scrimp on the finishing, because when the case is this simple there’s nowhere to hide. The watch has a modest 100m water resistance. It’s about what you’d expect for a field watch and it means you can wear the Pilot Pioneer in any situation the average owner will find themselves in.
Hamilton have clearly aimed to be as faithful as possible to the original W10, and have given the watch a boxed mineral crystal. I’ve reviewed a lot of watches with these on, and it’s always great to see them. They really add something to both the shape of the watch, especially when the design is as simple as this. Where they’ve tripped up though is that they’ve used a mineral crystal rather than a sapphire one. This is simply inexcusable on a watch that retails for £720. There’s just no reason to choose the former over the latter. What’s more, the Khaki Field Mechanical, does have a sapphire crystal. And that only costs £395. It doesn’t really make any sense.
Now what gives the Pilot Pioneer its personality is the dial. Obviously it’s a simple field watch layout that’s not much different from the others you’ll find out there. But Hamilton have given the dial a sandpaper like texture that adds some much needed character to the watch. The same goes for that faux patina. I know it’s a feature a lot of people hate, but without that splash of colour I think the watch would look rather bland. I also like the italicised “Hamilton” text on the dial. Again I think it adds a bit of character and livens up the generic military dial we’ve seen countless times before. The polished handset is very simple in shape, but the mirror finish glints beautifully in the light, and adds some refinement to what is otherwise a very functional design. Overall the Pilot Pioneer’s face is a fairly standard design. But Hamilton have given it just enough individuality to set it apart from the sea of field watches.
As I’ve come to expect from faux patina lume, the markers on the dial don’t glow very brightly. However, the lume on the hands is pretty legible in the dark. Though to be honest it doesn’t last too long before it fades considerably. All in all, the lume isn’t as bad as on some watches, but it’s far from great.
The calibre powering the Pilot Pioneer is an H-50. It’s a 17 jewel hand wound movement built exclusively for Hamilton by ETA, and it’s essentially an ETA 2801-2. There are a few differences between the two. The key one being that the H-50 has a whopping 80 hours power reserve, compared to the 2801-2’s 42. ETA did this by dropping the frequency down to 21,600 bph, and lengthening the mainspring. I think the trade off in beat rate is well worth the increased power reserve. As this is a manual wind movement it would be a pain to have to wind it every day.
The watch comes on a grey 18mm NATO strap. As NATO’s go it’s fairly decent. The weave of the material is tight and durable. The brushed steel hardware is nice too, and it feels pretty solid. It’s certainly a step up over the cheaper bog standard NATO’s. My one complaint is that the leather covering the tip makes it too thick to properly tuck back. So on a skinny wrist like mine, you either have to leave a good bit of tail flapping, or awkwardly force it into the keeper.
So now we come to the point where I’ve got to ask myself if I think the Pilot Pioneer is a good buy.
Well, to be completely honest, I think the Khaki Pilot Pioneer is a bit of a cash grab. Is it a delightful watch, full of character and charm? Yes, absolutely. But at £720 it’s most definitely incredibly overpriced for what it is. The fact is that you can get Hamilton’s Khaki Field Mechanical with the same movement and a sapphire crystal for just £395. I think you’d have to really prefer the looks of the Pilot Pioneer to pick it over the Field Mechanical.
Also at this price point the Pilot Pioneer is directly competing with the Christopher Ward C65 Sandhurst. I reviewed that a few months ago, and for £75 more you get a sapphire crystal, 50m more water resistance, and a chronometer certified movement. Plus I think it’s got a more interesting design. I really am struggling to see why Hamilton thought they should pitch the Pilot Pioneer at this price point.
However, if you take money out of the equation I do think it’s a charming watch. I like that Hamilton kept it the same size as the original, and the military design is an absolute classic. The watch has the character of a vintage piece, but the build quality of a modern watch. And for what it is, I think the Pilot Pioneer is built very well indeed. Whilst the crystal should be sapphire, not mineral glass, and the lume could be better, these are small complaints in the scheme of things. They certainly don’t stop the watch from being a great casual everyday wearer. In short, the Pilot Pioneer may make a poor value proposition, but it’s still a beautiful reissue of an iconic military timepiece.
You can purchase the Khaki Pilot Pioneer directly from Hamilton’s website here.